Anxiety (and mental health in general) is misunderstood. Here’s what you should know about it:
You can tell when someone is anxious.
When someone is feeling anxious may show visible symptoms such as trembling hands, sweating, and hyperventilating, but on the opposite end, someone can seem calm and still be experiencing anxiety. People can have internal symptoms, like an upset stomach, heart racing, worry ruminations, and tightness in their chest. We wouldn’t know that that person is going through all of that unless they told us. Anxiety doesn’t always appear like what we’d probably imagine it looking like.
If someone is anxious in one situation, they’re always anxious in the same or a similar situation.
People’s behaviors can vary from day to day and hour by hour. Weather, the amount of sleep that a person gets, and their mood can mitigate anxiety. On sunny days, a person might be in a positive mood and feel more up to taking on an anxiety-provoking activity because they feel they can better manage it. On days where someone doesn’t get the sleep they need the night before, they may feel tired, irritable and like they can’t manage an anxiety-provoking task that day.
If someone is anxious, you should try to calm them down.
It’s distressing to see someone you care about go through anxiety. We may want to naturally respond by saying, “Relax, things will turn out okay.” Unfortunately, this can backfire and isn’t helpful to the person. A comment similar to the one above can feel diminishing, and the person isn’t likely to feel like you’ve heard or understood them. Another thing is that it’s quite difficult to simply relax on command. If it were easy, the person would have already done it. Feeling anxious is a terrible.
Another well-meaning, but probably misguided thing to say is, “You should try yoga.” or, “Do this meditation video.” While yoga or meditation helps many people, sometimes people with anxiety have difficulties with those types of activities. The act of sitting with your feelings, trying to let go, or focusing on your breath can make the individual feel out of control or worse. It could be more beneficial to see a mental health professional who has a background in guiding people with anxiety through meditations and breathe exercises. The person can receive tailored care.
People with anxiety are weak.
This is far from the truth. People with anxiety are very strong. They get up every day and do the things that scare them in everyday life. On top of everyday life, part of effective treatment involves having the person gradually enter the situations that cause them anxiety. The individual needs to have the anxiety stirred up in order to learn how to manage it. It can be impressive to watch someone follow through with anxiety treatment. They do a lot of work or practice opposing the anxiety outside of counseling sessions, as well. People learn how to face their fears and live life the way that they want.
Anxiety is not a big deal.
It’s normal to feel some anxiety because it’s a natural response that people have. We can sometimes think that we know what someone else is feeling because we’ve felt it before, but having an anxiety disorder is different. It is not just feeling stressed or nervous from time to time. Having an anxiety disorder means that anxiety is heavily impacting a person’s life. The person is likely avoiding things that they need or want to do because of the anxiety. They are probably thinking about the anxiety a lot of the time, it takes up space in their mind. They may judge themselves for it. Anxiety can be a big deal, but it’s also highly treatable.
If you have anxiety or know someone that does, seek help from a professional who specializes in treating it.